Monday, March 25, 2013

Chinua Achebe - The true Voice of Africa - A humble tribute to this extraordinary author; and an understanding of the times he epitomized and immortalized in his works.

Chinua Achebe - The true Voice of Africa - A humble tribute to this extraordinary author; and an understanding of the times he epitomized and immortalized in his works.

I have been reading Chinua Achebe’s works over the last two months and it is with great sadness that I noted that this vibrant old man of eighty two years is no more. I am not sure how many of us even noticed the mention of his death in the media. Or even if we had, how many of us understood that in his passing away, we have a lost a voice that has helped in bringing our attention to the plight and devastation of Africa caused by Colonialism. I have written this tribute to a writer whose work reminds us that literature is always born out of a deep sense of passion and connect with the world and its surroundings, should always be as a conduit for the flow of life, with all its joys and calamities……..

Great Works of Literary fiction are often born out of the crucible of  a society that is in the process of change, and the Teutonic  plates of Cultural and moral ideologies of a nation and its people  perceptibly shift to a newer equilibrium, that is completely divested of its past. In many ways, a writer and his work is often a candid reflection of such a society, and its embodied cultural undercurrents. And, there comes a time in the life time of a nation, when its true voice gurgles up through the pen and words of a singularly gifted artist, and finds its consummation in lending a credible voice to the entire community; and thereby opening up a whole new vista of life and thought for generations to come. Chinua Achebe - the great Nigerian author, who passed away on 22nd of March, was one such gifted writer.  Let’s then put his life and work in context.

The impact of the west and how it has shaped the geographic and intellectual maps of many societies across the globe is a fact that is well established in history. Africa is no exception. The landscape of that wonderful vibrant tropical continent has time and again been ravaged and abused by unnecessary intrusions and political interventions of Western Colonialism, and its blatantly ignoble policy of divide-and-rule. The British established, perpetuated and enhanced the traditionally derived differences in the continent to establish a system of colonial rule in Nigeria. The predominantly Muslim population of the north was kept happy by the colonialists by keeping them away from any advancement that Modern education may provide, and helped the ossification of the indigenous Muslim populace of Northern Nigeria, by binding them to existing rules of tradition and customs. On the contrary, The eastern part of the country, which was home to  Igbo tribe, were afforded the luxury of the British Munificence , who sent many of their sons to British universities and enjoyed the active freedom and opportunities afforded by such education.  This singularly dichotomous policy led to a deep political divide between within Nigeria. While the North wallowed in poverty and ignorance, the East was enjoying a life of comfort and riches.

 It was but natural that this state of affairs could not have continued indefinitely, and the early sixties saw the first signs of political dissent from Northern Nigeria to the more prosperous and egalitarian people of the East, leading to the secession of the eastern state of Biafra in 1967, and thus marking a seminal metamorphosis in the life, climate and the cultural fabric of the Africa. The decade of the sixties witnessed the violent ethnic purging of the Igbo tribe by the Northern Nigerians, the economic and food blockade imposed, the fight for oil reserves, literally pushing the State to the brink of obliteration and the chaos and horror that erupted thereafter, violated every known principle of Human rights codified and agreed upon since the Second World War. Horrid scenes of Starvation, abject poverty and the debasement of millions of Human lives – witnessed in the media and television screens across the globe, shook the conscience of the world to its very depths.

It was this milieu that Chinua Achebe captured in his magnificent   “Things fall apart” trilogy of Novels.  His work bought about a deeper understanding of the African nation and its cultural roots. Though Achebe was a product of Western education, his sympathies ran deep and his writings reflected this depth in the unforgettable characters that he etched ,and the colonial period that he invoked in his inimitably evocative style. His work also set the tone for Modern African literature. His writings reflected the true spirit of Africa without the accoutrements of Western idiom. Achebe arguably is one of the greatest novelist of African culture and his seminal achievement as a writer was in creating an English syntax in his novels that could not only imitate the tonal speech qualities of African speech, but also to give it a life outside its own immediate culture, reaching out to a larger wider world. The language of Igbo is inferential and to a great degree contextual, like the Chinese; and to capture the flavor of its layered meanings and intonations within the rigid semantics of English is a task worthy only of a genius. Many other African writers have followed suit:  Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – to name of few. All of them carry a trace of the scent and texture of Achebe’s enchanting and deeply disturbing narrative style.

Achebe received numerous awards and more than 30 honorary doctorates, but among the tributes he may have valued most was Nelson Mandela's. "There was a writer named Chinua Achebe," Mandela wrote, "in whose company the prison walls fell down."  No better tribute would fit the work and life of Chinua Achebe.

Read his works……..


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